Nikon Small World winner announced

The winner of the Nikon Small World competition has been announced, and it’s a stunning picture of a diatom, by the talented Dutch microphotographer Wim van Egmond (click on the camera above to see it). Congratulations, Wim!

See the competition gallery to look at the full collection of pictures, or check out the coverage in Wired.

Information is Beautiful 2013 Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2013 Information is Beautiful Awards has been released. In the Data Visualization category, I voted for “The Atlas of Kant’s Legacy” (below) by Valerio Pellegrini, a beautiful study of how Kant’s philosophical vocabulary changed over time. This is work that Valerio conducted for his M.Sc. thesis.

Why not take a look and vote yourself, in this and the other four categories (Infographic, Interactive, Motion Infographic, and Tool)?

Happy Birthday, Arecibo!

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was completed 50 years ago next month, in November 1963. It was an engineering milestone, and remains the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, with a diameter of 305 m (1000 feet).

IEEE/ASME plaque at Arecibo (photo: Chris Amelung)

The Arecibo team have been celebrating all year (with a special anniversary symposium currently live on UMETIPTV). And justifiably so: it’s been 50 years of good work. Well done, team! Now, if only we could get you the world’s largest cake…

Update: The symposium is over, but Wired has a great article on the observatory.

Telescope: a short film

Telescope ( is a fantastic short film directed by Collin Davis and Matt Litwiller, written by Eric Bodge, and shot by Travis Labella, with production design by Molly Burgess. In the year 2183, when all life on Earth has ceased, an archaeologist takes a telescope aboard a faster-than-light spaceship to see the living planet that once existed.

Take 10 minutes to watch this wonderful short film on Vimeo below!

See Telescope on Vimeo.

There’s gold in them thar trees!

A recent paper in Nature by four Australian authors confirms that Eucalyptus trees growing over gold deposits will accumulate small quantities of gold in their leaves. Not only that, the authors show that Eucalyptus seedlings actually absorb gold from the soil – it’s not just gold-laden dust blowing onto the leaves.

This makes biogeochemical prospecting for gold a possibility – gold-bearing leaves may tell miners where to dig. Biogeochemical prospecting is not a new idea, but the work of these four scientists may initiate a resurgence of the technique.

For more about this discovery, see this Science news story, or the Nature paper itself.

A Eucalyptus marginata tree. Does it mark a goldfield below? (photo by “SatuSuro”)

The Macleay Museum, Sydney

The Macleay Museum (interior)

The Macleay Museum is a small (but free!) museum tucked away in the top floor of the Macleay building at the University of Sydney.

The museum, begun two centuries ago by Alexander Macleay, specialises in animal specimens and old scientific instruments, as well as having an ethnographic collection. However, only a handful of specimens are on display to the casual visitor. Still, like the other University of Sydney museums, the Macleay Museum is well worth a brief visit.

A microscope from the Macleay Museum’s collection

Update: the Macleay Museum will be closed for renovations from 25 November 2016 until 2018.

The Lion of Microscopy

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek has been called the “father of microbiology.” This Dutch scientist manufactured several powerful microscopes with small, near-spherical, lenses, and made numerous microbiological and other observations. He discovered, among other things, red blood cells, spermatozoa, and micro-organisms.

Top: Replica of a van Leeuwenhoek microscope (photo: Jeroen Rouwkema). Bottom left: van Leeuwenhoek’s drawings of sand grains (in red chalk, from a letter to the Royal Society, 4th December 1703). Bottom right: section through one-year-old ash wood (click images to zoom).

It is interesting to compare van Leeuwenhoek’s drawings with the modern electron-microscope image of sand grains below. The technology has gotten better, but scientists are still treading down the path blazed by van Leeuwenhoek and his contemporary Robert Hooke.

And where would medicine be without microscopy? The microbiologists who followed this great pioneer have saved countless lives, and the world is in van Leeuwenhoek’s debt as a result.

Information is Beautiful 2013 Longlist

The “longlist” for the 2013 Information is Beautiful Awards has been released. Among the fascinating entries is this excellent tide prediction infographic by Kelvin Tow:

There are many other wonderful entries on the longlist, in five categories (Data Visualization, Infographic, Interactive, Motion Infographic, and Tool). Take a look!